Hinduism has multiple gods and goddesses as objects of worship (polytheism).  This polytheism bothers many Christians, who affirm the Shema, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Dt 6:4).  The Hindu idols of these gods and goddesses also concerns Christians because of the commandment not to make idols nor bow down to them in worship (Dt 5:8-9).  Rather than focus on such negative concerns, however, I would like to think about how this issue can help us better understand the Bible.

Hindu polytheism, along with a statement within the Vedas about “33 koti gods,” leads many to say India is a land of 330 million gods.  The Sanskrit word “koti” could mean 33 crore (10 million, at the time the largest Indian numerical unit), but the word has also been interpreted as “supreme” or “types.”  Regardless whether koti means crore, the saying emphasizes both Hinduism’s polytheism and elucidates the philosophical belief that all these gods and goddesses are but manifestations of the one supreme God.  God is so vast, so infinite, that humans cannot comprehend him.  And so, like looking at light through a prism, each god or goddess is a manifestation of some attribute or facet of the one non-personal, incomprehensible God.  To put it differently, no one god or goddess manifests the fullness of deity of the one supreme God.

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330,000,000 gods seems so foreign to most Christians, yet in reality the Bible teaches us that there are almost 8,000,000,000 images of the one God!  What? you ask!  Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that humans are created in the image of God, whether male or female.  Each one of us is a an “image of God,” so we are all created to be living, breathing idols of the one God. The majesty and significance that the Bible gives to each human as image-bearer is precisely why idolatry is prohibited by the Ten Commandments.  He has called us to be his image; we reject our calling when we create something else to reflect him. 

So we do not need idols made of stone, metal, or wood to help us learn about God or to aid us in demonstrating our devotion to God. We have one other. This is why the prophets were so concerned about injustice and unrighteousness. True worship of God is to treat your neighbor as yourself and to do to others as you would want them to do to you. That we are the image of God means that every word we speak matters, for we speak for God. Every act we do matters, for we act on behalf of God. Because every human is made in the image of God, it matters how we treat one another. “They” are not our enemy to slander or destroy. “They” should be honored as the very image of God–even when we disagree with something they say or do. This is why Jesus, when his opponents attempted to trap him with a question about paying taxes to Caesar, held up a coin and asked whose “image” was on the coin. When they said Caesar’s, Jesus told them to give to Caesar what bears Caesar’s image and to give to God what bears God’s image (ourselves). In other words, stop worrying about the taxes and the politics and just love your neighbor. If you do, everything else will work out.

Christianity is a kingdom of 8 billion images of god, though not all reflect his glory or bow to one another in love and service of God.  None of us fully reflects the infinite God, though we all reflect elements of who he is.  Yet here is where Christianity differs from Hinduism.  Where they say no one god or goddess can fully reflect the infinite God, Christians say there is one human who is the image of God in all its radiance and splendor.  There is one in whom all the fullness of deity dwelt bodily.  His name is Jesus.  Christians bow to him as Lord, the full reflection of the image of the invisible God.  As we follow him, God conforms us to Christ’s image, and we reflect this image to those around us.

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